In March, I released a Water Technology Innovation Blueprint while visiting the University of South Florida’s (USF) College of Global Sustainability in partnership with the Water Environment Federation (WEF). This Blueprint promotes technology innovation across the national water program as a means to speed progress toward clean and safe water.
Why is technology innovation so important? With the challenges facing our water resources, it presents opportunities to fix these challenges faster, with significantly less cost and energy consumption. During this visit I toured USF laboratories where new technologies are already addressing some of the top ten issues mentioned in the Blueprint. It is easy to see a paradigm shift is occurring across the water sector.
In May, I visited Clemson University’s Water Institute to learn about the Intelligent River project, which was awarded $3 million in 2011 by the National Science Foundation. Clemson is developing methods of harnessing information technology to improve decision making for river systems, like the Savannah River Basin, into which the streams near Clemson flow. Clemson is focused on collecting data from all kinds of water monitoring equipment and developing programs that will analyze all of that data to assist in river management. It can be used not only to provide continual feedback on water pollution, flow levels, aquatic life issues and temperature, but also predict how those water quality and quantity conditions will change based on the decisions made by government, utilities, industry, and watershed groups. This information could potentially be available to all of those groups to achieve goals like ensuring that there is more water to use during a drought, or better habitat for fish, and cleaner source water for drinking.
Next I went to Oakland, California to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District. This wastewater facility has implemented a series of projects to produce energy, including generation of methane from waste that in turn powers generators to run a renewable energy system. This is the first of its kind in North America to be a net-energy producer. With 150,000 drinking water and 15,000 wastewater facilities nationwide accounting for 4% of the national electricity consumption, equivalent to about 56 billion kilowatt hours and costing around $4 billion dollars, a facility that not only conserves energy but generates it holds significant promise.
I plan to continue visiting innovative technology projects around the country to show their tremendous potential for solving our water challenges
About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Water.